Lenore Vardi

Lenore Vardi

JENNIFER JACKSON’S PORT TOWNSEND NEIGHBOR COLUMN: Renowned violinist displays pomp for grads

LAST WEEK, STRAINS of “Pomp and Circumstance” wafted through the air as high school seniors marched down aisles to receive their diplomas.

Only three, however, marched in to the piece played by a world-renowned violinist.

On June 6, Lenore Vardi played the processional for Jefferson Community School’s ceremony at the Northwest Maritime Center as this year’s graduates — Jesaint Baril, Jae Dvorak and Dylan Nichol — escorted their families to the front row and took their places by the podium.

Vardi also stepped forward after Crystie Kisler, a school founder, welcomed the audience, to play Massenet’s “Meditation from Thais” with a mastery of technique and power that stunned the audience.

It was a perk to have the professional musician as a downstairs neighbor.

“I told them if ever you’d like me to do anything, I’d be more than willing to play,” Vardi said.

Vardi, who has lived most of her adult life in New York, is moving full time to Port Towns­end in July but already has a studio off the courtyard of Jefferson Community School on Quincy Street.

There, she gives violin lessons and displays her art and that of her late husband, Emanuel Vardi.

On Sunday at the Courtyard Cafe next door, she talked about what brought her to Port Townsend — in other words, answering the question, “What’s a classical musician from New York like you doing in a place like this?”

She allowed she’d been asked that before, “especially when we were in Iowa,” she said.

Although Lenore and Emanuel Vardi might not be household names, most have probably heard music the Vardis recorded.

A bit of background: Emanuel Vardi, who died last year at age 95, was one of the top viola players of the 20th century and one of only two viola players to perform a solo recital at Carnegie Hall.

Major recording star

Emanuel left Juilliard to play in the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini, and during his career produced music for Louis Armstrong and performed in orchestras, accompanying everyone from Frank Sinatra to The Beatles.

Lenore made her New York debut in 1982 and her London debut in 1988, and has performed as a soloist around the world. She has played for live radio broadcasts with Plácido Domingo and played with Itzhak Perlman.

Married in 1984, the Vardis recorded and performed with Tony Bennett, Dionne Warwick, Sarah Vaughan, Diana Ross and Nina Simone.

Why, you might have their recordings: The Vardis were part of a select circle who performed on the soundtracks for major movies, including “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Tootsie” and “Aladdin.”

They also recorded music for advertisements for credit cards, soft drinks and automobiles.

Studio work requires going in, sitting down and playing music you have never seen before — and doing it right the first time.

“It keeps you on your toes,” Lenore said.

Music for airline videos was particularly lucrative because residuals are based on the number of flights the music is played on — three legs equaling one flight, Lenore said.

The Vardis decided to make their own flight from the East Coast after shoulder surgery left Emanuel unable to play professionally anymore.

Working their way across the country teaching — including that stint in Iowa — they reached Port Townsend in 2006, where they lived for eight months, renting a house on Jackman Street from friends.

Footage of Emanuel

While they were living here, Jane Champion, a documentary filmmaker based in Port Townsend, recorded Emanuel teaching a master class in Seattle and shot footage of him talking about his life, which began in Jerusalem during World War I.

The family came to the United States when Emanuel was 4.

When he died in 2011, Champion put together a film tribute for his memorial service in Bellevue.

“It was a beautiful thing for her to do,” Lenore said.

Daughter of a steelworker, Lenore grew up in Detroit and started playing the violin in grade school when a music teacher recognized her talent.

Lenore went on to receive a full scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. She earned her Bachelor of Music at Oberlin College and a master’s degree from Sarah Lawrence.

Lenore met Emanuel her senior year in graduate school when she decided to play the viola — he was her teacher.

The Vardis lived in Manhattan, then moved to Westchester, N.Y., where they started the Westchester Music Festival.

In 2007, they started the Snoqualmie Valley Music Festival in North Bend. It had only one concert, due to weather, Lenore said.

Wanting to make a new start and get away from the rain are two reasons Lenore decided to move to Port Townsend, she said.

Her focus for the next stage of her life: to pass along the knowledge she gained working with musicians who were the best in the business.

She commutes to Seattle to teach and also teaches violin students from the Olympic Peninsula. In addition, she performs with the Vardi Chamber Players, which she founded.

Chamber music

Her ultimate goal: to start a series of chamber music concerts in Port Townsend. Their debut performance will be a Nov. 15 Candlelight Concert at Trinity United Methodist Church.

“I want to bring people into my world,” she said.

Lenore, who has played in 35 orchestras during her career, said the Northwest Maritime Center is a beautiful place to play music, both for the view and the acoustics.

Prior to last week, though, she had never played at a graduation and had never played “Pomp and Circumstance.”

But she knew what it sounded like, she said, so she didn’t need the music; she just had to figure out how she wanted to play it.

Excerpts of Lenore playing “Meditation for Thais” and other pieces at the dedication of the Northwest Railroad Museum’s exhibit building is on YouTube (http://tinyurl.com/7ey8nst).

For more information about her art and music, visit www.vardiart.com or email vardiart@vardiart.com.

Or visit her gallery at 280 Quincy St., Suite D, during the Gallery Walk, which is the first Saturday of each month.

It’s just downstairs from the school.

Jefferson Community School is an accredited independent school for middle and high school students that combines academics with experiential learning, community service and international expeditions.

For more information, visit www.jeffersoncommunityschool.com.


Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or email jjackson@olypen.com.

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